Press Releases

 WASHINGTON– Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement upon the Senate voting to confirm Jessica Aber as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) and Christopher Kavanaugh as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia (WDVA):

“We are pleased the Senate has confirmed Jessica Aber and Christopher Kavanaugh to these critical positions. We were deeply impressed by their exceptional backgrounds. We believe they will serve the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia with distinction.”

Jessica Aber is a distinguished attorney with more than a dozen years of criminal justice experience in the EDVA U.S. Attorney’s Office and as Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division. She has worked as both an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) handling complex financial fraud, violent crime, and child exploitation cases and as EDVA’s Deputy Criminal Chief supervising operations across the District’s four divisions. Ms. Aber has lived in Virginia for over 20 years, receiving her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Richmond and her Juris Doctor from the William & Mary Law School.     

Chris Kavanaugh is an AUSA in the Western District of Virginia. Mr. Kavanaugh is currently serving as Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General. Mr. Kavanaugh has practiced before every judge in the Western District and has worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office since 2014, handling a wide variety of federal criminal offenses involving domestic terrorism, civil rights violations, national security, and white-collar offenses and violent crimes. Mr. Kavanaugh received his Bachelors of Science from Georgia Tech and his Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

In March, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to President Biden recommending candidates for the U.S. Attorney vacancies in the EDVA and WDVA. In their letter, the Senators recommended Jessica Aber for the EDVA position and Christopher Kavanaugh for the WDVA position.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are now accepting applications for the position of United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, to succeed United States District Court Judge Raymond A. Jackson, who will assume senior status effective November 23, 2021.

 An independent panel of lawyers assembled by the senators will review applications and interview qualified individuals. The senators will then use those recommendations, as well as input from experts, practitioners, and bar associations from around the Commonwealth, as they consider potential nominees to recommend to the President. The White House will then nominate an individual whose nomination is subject to confirmation by the full Senate. 

Interested applicants should visit Senator Warner’s website for application instructions. The application period will close November 8, 2021.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued the following statement after the Judiciary Committee approved President Biden’s nominations of Virginia Solicitor General Toby J. Heytens for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and Patricia Tolliver Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael S. Nachmanoff for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division:

“We are pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to advance the nominations of Toby Heytens, Patricia Tolliver Giles, and Michael Nachmanoff.  We recommended Mr. Heytens, Ms. Tolliver Giles, and Judge Nachmanoff to President Biden and are confident all three nominees will serve Virginia and the country with distinction. We urge our colleagues to swiftly confirm Mr. Heytens to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and Ms. Tolliver Giles and Judge Nachmanoff to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.” 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been supporters of the three nominees. In May, Sens. Warner and Kaine sent a letter to the President, recommending Mr. Heytens for the vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, following Judge Barbara M. Keenan’s decision to take senior status in August 2021. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is based in Richmond and hears federal appeals from Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

In April, the Senators sent a letter to President Biden, recommending Ms. Tolliver Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge Nachmanoff for the vacancy in the Alexandria Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia following Judge Liam O’Grady’s decision to take senior status. Shortly thereafter, another vacancy opened in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to succeed Judge Anthony Trenga, who assumed senior status June 1, 2021.

These nominations will now head to the Senate floor to be considered by the full Senate.

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WASHINGTON —Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on President Biden’s nominations of Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) Jessica Aber and Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia (WDVA) Christopher Kavanaugh to fill the U.S. Attorney vacancies in the Eastern District of Virginia and the Western District of Virginia, respectively:

“We are pleased that the President has nominated Ms. Aber and Mr. Kavanaugh to fill these vacancies,” said the Senators. “After a thorough review of their distinguished records, we believe they will serve Virginia and the country with distinction. We hope our colleagues will join us to support these well-qualified nominees to be U.S. Attorneys in the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia.” 

In March, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to President Biden recommending candidates for the U.S. Attorney vacancies in the EDVA and WDVA. In their letter, the Senators recommended Jessica Aber for the EDVA position and Christopher Kavanaugh for the WDVA position. 

These nominations are subject to confirmation by the full Senate.

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WASHINGTON —Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the White House recommending Ms. Juval Scott and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou to fill the upcoming vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division, which will be created when Judge James P. Jones assumes senior status on August 30, 2021.  

Ms. Scott is currently the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Virginia. She has also served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and Southern District of Indiana. As an Attorney Advisor at the Administrative Office of Courts, Defender Services Office, Training Division, she worked to develop and implement national, state, and local training programs for public defenders. As a public defender, Ms. Scott has represented hundreds of indigent clients. If nominated and confirmed, Ms. Scott would be the first African American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. 

Judge Ballou has served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Western District since 2011. Prior to joining the bench, he spent twenty-three years in private practice. He tried fifty cases before juries over that period of time. On the bench, he has overseen a wide variety of federal civil and criminal matters, conducted dozens of misdemeanor criminal trials, and several civil jury trials. He has also dedicated time and attention to the Veterans Court and the prisoner pro se docket. 

“Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation,” said the senators. “Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench.”

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia is based in Roanoke. Appeals from the Western District of Virginia are taken to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. President Biden will nominate one individual for the position, which is subject to confirmation by the full Senate. 

The full text of today’s letter appears here and below:

 

Dear Mr. President:

We are pleased to recommend Ms. Juval Scott and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou for the vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division, following the decision by Judge James P. Jones to take senior status effective August 30, 2021. Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation. 

Ms. Scott is currently the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Virginia. In this position, she manages three offices of the Federal Public Defender in Roanoke, Charlottesville, and Abingdon, Virginia. She has also served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Southern District of Indiana. As an Attorney Advisor at the Administrative Office of Courts, Defender Services Office, Training Division, she worked to develop and implement national, state and local training programs for public defenders. She also initiated a federal program to diversify public defender offices. Ms. Scott has represented hundreds of indigent clients in the Western District of Virginia, Eastern District of Wisconsin, and Southern District of Indiana. This experience gives us confidence that Ms. Scott would make an excellent nominee for this seat.

We also recommend Judge Ballou, who has served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Western District since 2011. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Ballou spent 23 years in private practice and became well-acquainted with federal court practice in general and the Western District in particular. He tried 50 cases before juries over that period of time. On the bench, he has overseen a wide variety of federal civil and criminal matters, conducted dozens of misdemeanor criminal trials and several civil jury trials. He has also dedicated time and attention to the Veterans Court and the prisoner pro se docket. He has proven himself to be a jurist who is able to understand the salient points of arguments and render fair decisions. Together, these experiences qualify Judge Ballou for this nomination and we are honored to recommend him.

Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench. We are honored to recommend them to you.                                                    

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON —Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on President Biden’s nominations of Virginia Solicitor General Toby J. Heytens for the upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Patricia Tolliver Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael S. Nachmanoff for the vacancies on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division.

“We are pleased that the President has nominated Mr. Heytens, Ms. Giles, and Judge Nachmanoff to fill these vacancies,” said the Senators. “Based on their fairness, temperament, and integrity, we believe they will all serve Virginia and the country with distinction. We hope our colleagues will join us to support these well-qualified nominees.”

In May, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to the President, recommending Mr. Heytens, along with U.S. District Court Judges Arenda Wright Allen and Hannah Lauck, for the vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit following Judge Barbara M. Keenan’s decision to take senior status in August 2021. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is based in Richmond and hears federal appeals from Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina. 

In April, the Senators sent a letter to President Biden, recommending Ms. Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge Nachmanoff for the vacancy in the Alexandria Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia following Judge Liam O’Grady’s decision to take senior status. Shortly thereafter, another vacancy opened in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to succeed Judge Anthony Trenga, who assumed senior status June 1, 2021. 

These nominations are subject to confirmation by the full Senate.

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WASHINGTON – With Congress preparing to take up this year’s government funding legislation, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have formally requested robust funding to ensure the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. This alert system was authorized through the Ashanti Alert Act, a law authored and championed by Sen. Warner to help save lives. 

“As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401), and that this effort is fully funded in FY 2022,” wrote the senators in a letter to Congressional leaders in charge of distributing funding. “It is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives full funding and the Department fully implement it in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Full funding ensures that DOJ, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to implement the Ashanti Alert network effectively at the soonest possible date.”

The Ashanti Alert Act is named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old woman who was abducted on her way to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in September 2017, and whose body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. Due to her age, Ashanti did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert – tools utilized by law enforcement that allow the public to assist in locating missing children or senior citizens. The law requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, that would notify the public about missing or endangered adults through radio and television broadcast systems. The law also requires the Attorney General to designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states and territories should use in creating their networks. 

In their letter, the senators also praised recent progress by the DOJ, including its efforts to encourage states, territories, and tribes to adopt Ashanti Alert plans, and to assist various states in ensuring that their existing alert programs for missing adults are consistent with national Ashanti Alert guidance. 

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this national alert system in December of 2018, has long led the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. In August 2019, he reiterated the need for the swift implementation of the alert during a meeting with Katherine Sullivan, the then-Ashanti Alert Coordinator and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice (DOJ). In July 2020, Sen. Warner sent a letter to Governors across the country inviting their law enforcement officials to participate in a DOJ webinar to help states learn how they can begin to implement this critical program. Most recently, he helped secure $1 million in federal funding in the December 2020 emergency government funding legislation to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system.

A PDF of the letter is available here. Text is available below.

 

 Dear Chairman Shaheen and Ranking Member Moran:

As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401), and that this effort is fully funded in FY 2022.  We appreciate that the Subcommittee included $1 million for Ashanti Alert Network funding in the FY21 spending bill, and we were pleased that President Biden, too, has recognized the importance of the Ashanti Alert in his proposed budget for FY22.

On December 31, 2018, the Ashanti Alert Act was signed into law, after it passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. The law requires DOJ to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults. In addition, the Ashanti Alert Act requires the Attorney General to designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states (as well as territories) should use in creating their networks.

In the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-93), Congress directed DOJ to report on both the status of its Ashanti Alert Act implementation efforts, as well as establish a deadline for final implementation no later than March 19, 2020.[1]  While DOJ has not yet fully implemented the program, we are glad to see recent progress.  The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which administers the Ashanti Alert program, is assisting various states with their existing alert programs for missing adults in an effort to ensure the programs are consistent with national Ashanti Alert guidance.  Additionally, BJA is encouraging all other states, territories, and tribes to adopt Ashanti Alert plans and has identified states and tribes to serve as possible pilot sites for enhancing Ashanti alerting capabilities.  Two states, including Virginia, have adopted formal Ashanti Alert programs.

This law was borne out of the tragic death of Ashanti Billie, a 19 year old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia and whose body was discovered 11 days after she was first reported missing. Because Ashanti was too old for an Amber Alert to be issued and no similar network for adults existed at the time, her parents, family, and friends struggled to get word out of her disappearance in a timely fashion.

Thus, it is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives full funding and the Department fully implement it in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Full funding ensures that DOJ, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to implement the Ashanti Alert network effectively at the soonest possible date. 

We appreciate the Subcommittee’s past support for the Ashanti Alert Act, and efforts made by Subcommittee staff to ensure implementation.  We hope the Subcommittee will continue to demonstrate strong support for the Ashanti Alert Act for FY 2022. 

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON —Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the White House recommending Judge Arenda Wright Allen, Judge Hannah Lauck, and Virginia Solicitor General Toby J. Heytens to fill the upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which will be created when Judge Barbara M. Keenan assumes senior status in August 2021. 

Judge Allen has been a U.S. District Court Judge in the Norfolk division of the Eastern District of Virginia since 2011. Judge Allen served in the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia from 2005-2011 and served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in both the Eastern District of Virginia and the Western District of Virginia from 1990 to 2005. She also has a distinguished record of service in the Navy and has a lifelong commitment to diversity.  

Judge Lauck has been a U.S. District Court Judge in the Richmond division of the Eastern District of Virginia since 2014 and was previously a Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District—the first woman to be appointed to either position in Richmond. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Lauck served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 1994 to 2005. Judge Lauck served as a clerk to U.S. Judge Randolph Spencer of the Eastern District of Virginia. 

Mr. Heytens has been the Solicitor General of Virginia since 2018, representing the Commonwealth in state and federal courts, including three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to this role, Mr. Heytens was a professor at his alma mater, the University of Virginia School of Law, from 2010 to 2018. Mr. Heytens also served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Chief Judge Edward R. Becker on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 

“All three candidates possess the requisite fairness, temperament, and integrity to serve as a U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, and have our highest recommendation,” said the senators. “Ultimately, we believe each of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench.”

Warner and Kaine recommend these individuals based on their distinguished records and the assessments of an independent panel of attorneys from across the Commonwealth as well as feedback from bar associations in Virginia. 

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is based in Richmond and hears federal appeals from Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina. President Biden will nominate one individual for the position, which is subject to confirmation by the full Senate. 

The full text of today’s letter appears here and below: 

 

Dear Mr. President: 

We are pleased to recommend United States District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen, United States District Court Judge Hannah Lauck, and Virginia Solicitor General Toby J. Heytens for the vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit following Judge Barbara M. Keenan’s decision to take senior status, effective August, 2021. All three candidates possess the requisite fairness, temperament, and integrity to serve as a U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, and have our highest recommendation. 

The Honorable Arenda Wright Allen is a United States District Court Judge in the Norfolk Division of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Prior to joining the bench in 2011, Judge Allen served in the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia from 2005-2011. From 1990 to 2005, Judge Allen served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in both the Eastern District of Virginia and the Western District of Virginia.  Judge Allen also has an exemplary record of military service, serving as a Navy JAG Trial Attorney and Staff Judge Advocate from 1985-1990.  Judge Allen continued her service as a Commander in the United States Navy Reserves until she retired in 2005.

Judge Hannah Lauck has had an impressive legal career to date, and is currently serving as a United States District Court Judge in Richmond, Virginia.  Prior to becoming a United States District Court Judge, she served as a federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, from 2005 to 2014.  Additionally, she was the first woman District Court Judge and Magistrate Judge appointed in the Richmond Division for the Eastern District of Virginia.    

Toby Heytens is the Solicitor General of Virginia, a position he has held since 2018. As the Solicitor General, Mr. Heytens exclusively represents the Commonwealth, its officers, and its agencies. In the last three years he has represented the Commonwealth in federal and state courts, including three arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States, defense of the Commonwealth’s new firearms laws and the Governor’s COVID-19 related orders in trial courts and on appeal.  Prior to joining the Virginia Attorney General’s office, Heytens was a professor at his alma mater, the University of Virginia School of Law, from 2010 to 2018. 

Ultimately, we believe each of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench. We are honored to recommend them to you.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to President Biden recommending Patricia Tolliver Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael S. Nachmanoff for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. 

“We are pleased to recommend Ms. Patricia Tolliver Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael S. Nachmanoff for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division following Judge Liam O’ Grady’s decision to take senior status in May 2020,” said the Senators. “Both Ms. Giles and Judge Nachmanoff possess the requisite fairness, temperament, and integrity to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, and have our highest recommendation.”

Warner and Kaine recommend these individuals based on their distinguished records and the assessments of an independent panel of attorneys from across the Commonwealth as well as feedback from numerous bar associations in Virginia. President Biden will now nominate one individual for the position to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the full Senate.

Full text of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division letter is available here and below.

Dear Mr. President:

We are pleased to recommend Ms. Patricia Tolliver Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael S. Nachmanoff for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division following Judge Liam O’ Grady’s decision to take senior status in May 2020. Both Ms. Giles and Judge Nachmanoff possess the requisite fairness, temperament, and integrity to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, and have our highest recommendation.

Ms. Giles was raised in Hampton, Virginia, the daughter of a career military family.  Ms. Giles has spent her entire professional career in the Eastern District of Virginia, beginning when she served as a law clerk to the Honorable Bruce Lee.  Ms. Giles has a distinguished record of service as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District, which includes prosecuting the capital murder trial of MS-13 gang members.  We believe that practitioners would respect Ms. Giles’s rulings and that litigants would have reassurance of receiving a fair trial. 

Judge Nachmanoff has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District since 2015. Before his appointment to the bench, Judge Nachmanoff served for 13 years in the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia.  As EDVA’s Chief Federal Public Defender, Judge Nachmanoff Supervised 60 attorneys and staff, who represented more than 2,500 clients each year on federal violations ranging from petty offenses and misdemeanors on federal enclaves to capital murder. Judge Nachmanoff’s esteemed record demonstrates that he would be an excellent District Court Judge.  

Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench. We are honored to recommend them to you.

Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                           

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a former technology entrepreneur, released a statement after the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law held hearing entitled “Reviving Competition, Part 1: Proposals to Address Gatekeeper Power and Lower Barriers to Entry Online”:

“Social media has undeniably reshaped our entire culture and the ways we communicate, and has enormous benefits. However, we have seen that as platforms’ collective influence has grown, so have barriers to entry for smaller platforms. We must level the playing field for startups and make it easier for them to compete on equal terms with the biggest platforms. That is why I introduced bipartisan legislation, the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, to encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose. I am pleased to see the subcommittee and its witnesses address this important issue and am looking forward to continuing the conversation on how to enhance competition online.”

In addition to the ACCESS Act, Sen. Warner has written and introduced a number of bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Among these are the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act – legislation to reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination on their platforms; theDesigning Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act – bipartisan legislation to require data harvesting companies to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit; and the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act – bipartisan legislation to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces to trick consumers into handing over their personal data.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are now accepting applications for the position of U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Virginia to succeed U.S. District Judge James P. Jones, who will assume senior status effective August 30, 2021. An independent panel of lawyers assembled by the Senators will review applications and interview qualified individuals. The Senators will then use those recommendations, as well as input from bar associations and experts, as they consider potential nominees to recommend to the President. The White House will then nominate an individual to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the full Senate.

Interested applicants should visit Senator Warner’s website for application instructions. The application period will close on March 8, 2021.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are now accepting applications for the positions of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern and Western District of Virginia to replace current officeholders as the incoming-Biden Administration begins its transition. After receipt of applications, the Senators will select from the list of qualified attorneys to recommend for the nomination. The White House will then nominate individuals to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nominations are subject to confirmation by the full Senate.

“U.S. Attorneys play an integral role in protecting a geographically diverse region on a wide range of issues – from human trafficking, narcotics, and gang violence to white collar crime and public corruption,” said the Senators. “As we begin the transition process for these key positions in Virginia’s two districts, we look forward to reviewing qualified candidates and selecting the right individuals.”

Interested applicants should visit Senator Warner’s website for application instructions. The application period will close Monday, December 21, 2020.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are now accepting applications for the position of U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia to succeed U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, who took senior status on May 1, 2020. An independent panel of lawyers assembled by the Senators will review applications and interview qualified individuals. The Senators will then use those recommendations, as well as input from bar associations and experts, as they consider potential nominees to recommend to the President. The White House will then nominate an individual to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the full Senate. 

Interested applicants should visit Senator Warner’s website for application instructions. The application period will close December 18, 2020.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced legislation to increase cooperation between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and veterans legal clinics, such as the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinichoused at the College of William and Mary, or the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) at George Mason University. The Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020 would allow the VA to provide funding to law school legal clinics that provide pro bono legal services to veterans. 

Some law schools and their student volunteers are making significant progress in reducing disability claims backlogs and veterans homelessness in communities across the country. Under attorney supervision, students provide a range of pro bono legal services, including assistance with disability claims, foreclosures, bankruptcies, divorce, child custody and some minor criminal cases.  By assisting veterans with complicated benefits claims, legal clinics are turning the VA’s most time consuming cases into organized applications that are significantly easier to process. In addition, preventative services like expedited claims assistance and legal counsel offer veterans an opportunity to address challenges before they worsen, often resulting in significant long-term savings to the government.

“Veterans legal clinics do the crucial work of providing quality and essential legal services to vulnerable vets who otherwise may not be able to afford it. These clinics also provide important practical training for law students as they help veterans receive benefits that they frequently cannot access,” said Sen. Warner. “Given the enormous sacrifices that these brave individuals have made for our nation, we owe it to them to explore innovative solutions that allow them to get the assistance they need and the benefits they’ve earned in a more timely manner.  That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020 – a bill to enable the VA to provide funding to legal clinics dedicated to serving our nation’s veterans.”

“The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic of the William & Mary Law School has been at the forefront of efforts to assist veterans while educating future lawyers who are imbued with a deeply held public service ethos.  Since its establishment in 2008, the efforts of William & Mary Veterans Benefits Clinic students and staff have resulted in the awarding of over $53 million in projected lifetime benefits to veterans. The Veterans Legal Support Act  of 2020 would help the Puller Clinic expand efforts to meet the pressing unmet needs of veterans in Virginia and would greatly assist in establishing a more stable foundation for the Clinic’s continued operation,” said Michael Dick, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) and Co-Director, the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic.  

“The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) strongly supports the Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020, which would provide critical funding for law school veterans clinics across the country in their pursuit of securing vital benefits and free legal assistance for our nation’s veterans. Established in 2004 as the first clinic of its kind at any law school in the United States of America, M-VETS provides free legal assistance to the veteran and military community in a variety of matters, including Virginia civil litigation matters, family law, consumer protection issues, wills and powers of attorney, as well as assisting with matters before the Department of Veterans Affairs (“DVA”) and various administrative boards, including discharge upgrades, record corrections, military pay and entitlement matters, and DVA disability benefit appeals. The funding from this bill would enable M-VETS to grow its staff, expand its scope of services, and subsidize filing and administrative fees for indigent veterans to ensure their access to justice,” said Timothy M. MacArthur, Director & Clinical Professor, Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS). 

“Too many veterans are stuck in the VA’s claims backlog, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and hindered their access to the benefits and services they’ve earned. We have an obligation to use every tool available to assist the brave men and women who’ve served and sacrificed for our nation, which is precisely what our bill would help do,” said Sen. Shaheen. “Some of our nation’s law schools are greatly reducing processing times for challenging VA benefits claims and expanding access to legal services and I commend these students and faculty for their outstanding efforts. Our legislation would authorize the VA to work more closely with these programs and help other schools establish their own courses, ramping up efforts to cut down the VA backlog and expediting help for veterans seeking assistance. Leader McConnell should hold a vote on this common-sense legislation as soon as possible so together Congress can take a meaningful step forward to improve services for our veterans and their families.” 

“When our servicemembers made a commitment to defend our nation, our country also made a commitment to make sure they have the resources and support they deserve when they come home,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “While we can never repay the debt we owe to our troops and veterans who have risked their lives for this country, this legislation will help ensure our veterans have access to the basic legal assistance they may need to get the benefits they’ve earned.”

Sen. Warner has been a longtime supporter of legal clinics dedicated to serving our nation’s veterans. In April 2013, he sent letters to then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and President Obamaurging them to partner with the Puller Clinic to help veterans cut through red tape and reduce the VA claims backlog. Sen. Warner also sent a letter to each of his Senate colleagues promoting the Puller Clinic model, and met with Secretary Shinseki to advocate for the Puller Clinic program as a national model to help the VA solve its backlog challenges. He also worked to secure the Puller Clinic’s certification as a national “best practice” program, making it the first law school clinic in the nation to receive the VA designation. 

The text of the bill is available for download here

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and 13 of their Senate colleagues in requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of the Treasury conduct an analysis of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s repeal in California v. Texas would affect health care coverage in the United States, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Passed in 2010, the ACA drastically expanded the number of Americans with health insurance. Before the ACA, over 45 million Americans were uninsured and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage,” the Senators wrote. “After the ACA’s passage, over 20 million people gained health care coverage—including roughly 12 million people who were newly enrolled due to the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program. People with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied coverage health insurers were required to expand coverage for mental health and substance use treatment; and young adults could stay on their parents’ health coverage until age 26—making it easier for millions of Americans to access care.”

“In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed roughly 220,000 people in the U.S. and infected over 8 million others, the President of the United States is actively asking the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA’s critical health protections,” they continued. “Republicans in the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to pass legislation barring the President from advocating against the ACA in court, but they refused—choosing instead to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination and place the health care law at even greater risk.”

Despite the ACA’s success in expanding access to health care and reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Republican lawmakers have spent years working to overturn and undermine our nation’s health care law. These efforts have culminated in California v. Texas, a case led by 18 attorneys general and President Trump’s Department of Justice that calls for the courts to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional. The President is also currently working to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat with his nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in time to hear arguments in the case on November 10, 2020. Barrett’s nomination is a key component of the President’s self-stated goal to “terminate health care under Obamacare [the ACA].” If the ACA is repealed, experts estimate that over 20 million Americans and 740,000 Virginians will lose health coverage – a number that is likely higher now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to better understand how a Supreme Court decision to overturn ACA would affect health care coverage in the U.S. the Senators requested answers to the following questions:

  1. How many individuals would lose health coverage? Of those individuals:
    1. How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA?
    2. How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in health insurance through the ACA marketplaces?
    3. How many adult children under the age of 26 who are currently covered through their parents’ plans would lose coverage?
    4. How many individuals would lose coverage that acquired coverage through the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
    5. How many individuals would lose coverage that have pre-existing conditions?
    6. To the extent practicable, please provide the number of individuals, by state, that would lose health coverage disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
    7. By how much would consumers’ health care costs, including out-of-pocket costs and premiums, increase? To the extent practicable, please provide this information disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
    8. How many individuals currently covered through marketplace plans would lose ACA subsidies for their plans, and what would be the average amount lost per person in subsidies?
    9. How many individuals currently enrolled in Medicare Part D would likely hit the program’s prescription drug coverage gap, or the “doughnut hole,” in the first year following the ACA’s repeal? Assuming a complete reopening of the coverage gap (i.e.,100% beneficiary coinsurance, with 0% plan contribution and no manufacturer coverage gap discount program), what would be the average increase in out-of-pocket drug costs for enrollees who reach the coverage gap phase? What would be the estimated 10-yearsavings that would accumulate to drug manufacturers under a scenario where there is no coverage gap discount program?
    10. How many Medicare beneficiaries would be affected if preventive services were no longer exempt from cost-sharing requirements, what would be the effect on out-of-pocket spending if preventive services were not “free”, and how would the drop in preventive service use affect Medicare spending?
    11. What impact would the repeal have on the solvency of the hospital insurance trust fund?
    12. What is the average tax cut that households earning over $200,000 a year, over $1 million a year, and over $3 million a year, respectively, would receive?
    13. Please provide copies of any internal analyses conducted at HHS or Treasury that assess the impact of a California v. Texas decision that overturns the ACA on health care coverage. What analysis, if any, have your agencies conducted? What plans, if any, have your agencies developed to address the predicted loss of health care coverage that would accompany such a decision?

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Dr. Secretary Azar and Secretary Mnuchin: 

We write to request that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) provide Congress with its analysis of the impact a Supreme Court decision striking down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California v. Texas would have on health insurance coverage in the United States. We ask that particular attention be paid to the impact such coverage losses would have on Americans in the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Passed in 2010, the ACA drastically expanded the number of Americans with health insurance. Before the ACA, over 45 million Americans were uninsured and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage. After the ACA’s passage, over 20 million people gained health care coverage—including roughly 12 million people who were newly enrolled due to the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program. People with pre-existing

conditions could no longer be denied coverage health insurers were required to expand coverage for mental health and substance use treatment; and young adults could stay on their  parents’ health coverage until age 26—making it easier for millions of Americans to access care.

Despite the ACA’s unequivocal success in reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Republican lawmakers have spent years working to overturn the law. These years of sabotage have culminated in California v. Texas, a case—led by 18 attorneys general and President Trump’s Department of Justice—that calls for the courts to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on November 10, 2020. The President is currently working to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader’s Supreme Court seat with his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, in time for the November 10th arguments. Barrett’s nomination is a key component of the President’s self-stated goal to “terminate health care under Obamacare [the ACA].”

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts predicted that over 20 million Americans would lose health coverage if the ACA was overturned. That number is now likely far higher. In the first three months of the pandemic, unemployment rates rapidly outstripped those of the Great Recession, leaving roughly 30 million people unemployed by July. Today, around 28 million workers are receiving or seeking unemployment benefits, and estimates suggest that 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as a result of the pandemic—swelling the ranks of Americans purchasing health insurance on the ACA marketplaces or getting coverage through Medicaid. Meanwhile, wealthy Americans would likely get a tax cut should the ACA be repealed: if the revenue measures included in the law, including taxes on the wealthiest households in the country, were to disappear, “the highest-income 0.1 percent…households would receive tax cuts averaging about $198,000 per year.”

In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed roughly 220,000 people in the U.S. and infected over 8 million others, the President of the United States is actively asking the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA’s critical health protections. Republicans in the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to pass legislation barring the President from advocating against the ACA in court, but they refused—choosing instead to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination and place the health care law at even greater risk.

It is essential that policymakers understand the implications of a California v. Texas decision overturning the ACA. We therefore ask that HHS and Treasury provide us with information on how such a decision would impact health care coverage in the U.S. including any pre-existing internal analyses of such a decision. Specifically, should the Supreme Court overturn the ACA in its entirety:

1.      How many individuals would lose health coverage? Of those individuals:a.      How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA?
b.      How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in health insurance through the ACA marketplaces?
c.       How many adult children under the age of 26 who are currently covered through their parents’ plans would lose coverage?
d.      How many individuals would lose coverage that acquired coverage through the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
e.      How many individuals would lose coverage that have pre-existing conditions?
2.      To the extent practicable, please provide the number of individuals, by state, that would lose health coverage disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
3.      By how much would consumers’ health care costs, including out-of-pocket costs and premiums, increase? To the extent practicable, please provide this information disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
4.      How many individuals currently covered through marketplace plans would lose ACA subsidies for their plans, and what would be the average amount lost per person in subsidies?
5.      How many individuals currently enrolled in Medicare Part D would likely hit the program’s prescription drug coverage gap, or the “doughnut hole,” in the first year following the ACA’s repeal? Assuming a complete reopening of the coverage gap (i.e.,100% beneficiary coinsurance, with 0% plan contribution and no manufacturer coverage gap discount program), what would be the average increase in out-of-pocket drug costs for enrollees who reach the coverage gap phase? What would be the estimated 10-yearsavings that would accumulate to drug manufacturers under a scenario where there is no coverage gap discount program?
6.      How many Medicare beneficiaries would be affected if preventive services were no longer exempt from cost-sharing requirements, what would be the effect on out-of-pocket pending if preventive services were not “free”, and how would the drop in preventive service use affect Medicare spending?
7.      What impact would the repeal have on the solvency of the hospital insurance trust fund?
8.      What is the average tax cut that households earning over $200,000 a year, over $1 million a year, and over $3 million a year, respectively, would receive?
9.      Please provide copies of any internal analyses conducted at HHS or Treasury that assess the impact of a California v. Texas decision that overturns the ACA on health care coverage. What analysis, if any, have your agencies conducted? What plans, if any, have your agencies developed to address the predicted loss of health care coverage that would accompany such a decision?

Given the grave implications of this lawsuit and the pending nature of a Supreme Court decision, we ask for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Steve T. Descano brought forth two charges against the U.S. Park Police officers involved in the November 2017 shooting of Bijan Ghaisar: 

“As we near three years since two National Park Police officers tragically shot and killed Bijan, it is long past time for the Ghaisars to receive answers about what happened to their son and brother that night. 

In January of 2018, Sen. Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of its investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Sen. Warner sent a letter to the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

In June of 2019, Sen. Warner along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. Two months later, the FBI provided a brief response, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

In November 2019, the Senators pledged to seek greater transparency and formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the shooting – shortly after the FBI concluded its lengthy investigation without fully explain its findings, including why the two officers opened fire on Ghaisar. In February 2020, Sen. Warner voted against the nomination of Katharine MacGregor to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and in May, announced that he would place a hold on future Department of the Interior nominees until he receives adequate responses to his questions surrounding the Park Service’s handling of the shooting. In July, Sen. Warner pressed NPS for answers regarding its internal affairs investigation into the killing of Mr. Ghaisar, and the following month, he joined Sen. Grassley in a letter expressing concern over the department’s refusal to answer a number of questions in a briefing.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after President Trump announced he is calling off negotiations for COVID-19 relief until after the November general election and insisted the Senate focus its efforts on rushing through a Supreme Court nominee:

“The American public is telling us they need COVID relief now and we should wait until after the election to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. Instead, the President and Senate GOP are rushing their court nominee and ignoring Americans who are suffering in this health and economic crisis. We should be prioritizing COVID relief and we are discouraged that the President has decided to end the negotiations to do that.”

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after President Trump announced his intent to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court: 

“There is so much on the line with this Supreme Court vacancy. The next justice has the opportunity to decide the future of the Affordable Care Act, and whether Americans with preexisting conditions will continue to be protected, or if millions of Americans covered by the ACA will have their health care ripped away in the middle of a pandemic. Everything from health care to reproductive rights to voting rights hangs in the balance. Given the stakes, the American people have a right to have their voices heard before the confirmation of a new justice.

“This is not a question of judicial qualifications or temperament – this is about following the standard established by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2016, when he refused – over my own strong objections – to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee 10 months prior to the election. That’s now the precedent. We can’t have one set of rules for Democratic presidents, and a different set of rules for Republican presidents. Our system of checks and balances, which has held strong and lasting for more than 200 years, was simply not meant to bear the brunt of such cynicism and hypocrisy. 

“Virginians are already casting their ballots. The Senate should not be considering a Supreme Court nomination before Inauguration Day.”

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement today upon the Senate voting overwhelmingly to confirm Roderick C. Young as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia:

“Roderick Young will be a fair, even-minded judge who is already well-respected in the Commonwealth. We were proud to recommend his nomination to this court, and we’re pleased to see him confirmed today.”

In March, Warner and Kaine recommended the nomination of Young—who, until now, has been a U.S. magistrate judge—based on the assessments of an independent panel of attorneys from across the Commonwealth as well as feedback from numerous bar associations in Virginia.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), demanded answers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regarding reports of troubling conditions at Virginia facilities amid the COVID-19 crisis. Expressing frustration with Director Michael Carvajal’s failure to respond to a letter from earlier this year, the lawmakerspressed for answers concerning an ongoing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and diminished quality of life for incarcerated individuals. 

“Nearly four months ago, we sent you a letter detailing the significant risks and challenges COVID-19 posed to the health and safety of staff, incarcerated individuals at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities. We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated,” the lawmakers wrote. “One area of particular concern is the continued lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). According to employees at FCC Petersburg, both staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to re-use supplies and masks, which presents serious health and safety risks. Given the close quarters and frequent person-to-person interaction, correctional staff and incarcerated individuals are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Lack of PPE also creates additional risk of community spread outside the facilities. Relatedly, we have learned from facility staff that showers are restricted for individuals incarcerated at FCC Petersburg, a policy which further exacerbates sanitation and hygiene issues during a global pandemic.”

“We have also received numerous reports related to other declining conditions at FCC Petersburg. It is our understanding that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis,” they continued. “We have also heard disturbing reports that the food the incarcerated individuals are receiving has declined significantly in both quantity and quality, including being served spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.” 

In Virginia, there are two federal correctional institutions in operation, including the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex. Correctional officers at Virginia’s facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 incarcerated individuals. 

In their letter, the four members of Congress also raised concern with reports that correctional staff at FCI Petersburg continue to be denied a lunch break despite working shifts as long as sixteen hours – an issue originally raised in the lawmakers’ May 21st letter. Calling this “unacceptable and dangerous,” they encouraged Director Carvajal to institute a nation-wide break policy in order to address correctional staff’s basic needs.

Additionally, they expressed dismay regarding the transfer of incarcerated individuals between facilities, highlighting that at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 was transferred to USP Lee. The lawmakers noted that this this lapse in judgment could result in an entirely preventable COVID-19 outbreak inside the prison, endangering staff, inmates and local communities. 

The members of Congress have advocated for vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Earlier this year, they requested answers from Director Carvajal regarding issues at the Virginia facilities. Sen. Warner also joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to BOP and the three largest private prison operators inquiring about any policies and procedures in place to manage a potential spread of COVID-19.

Additionally, Sen. Warner and Kaine have urged the Trump Administration time and time and time again to cease the inter-state transfer of people held at immigration detention facilities during the public health crisis. 

Full text of today’s letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Director Carvajal:

We write to reiterate our serious concerns about the health and safety of staff and individuals incarcerated at Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, the two federal correctional facilities in Virginia, and to express our severe frustration at your failure to respond to our letter from May 21, 2020. After speaking with employees and the families of individuals incarcerated at both facilities, it is clear that the situation is worsening. According to figures shared with our offices, there are over 200 incarcerated individuals and at least 12 staff who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at FCC Petersburg. 

Nearly four months ago, we sent you a letter detailing the significant risks and challenges COVID-19 posed to the health and safety of staff, incarcerated individuals at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities. We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated.  

One area of particular concern is the continued lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). According to employees at FCC Petersburg, both staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to re-use supplies and masks, which presents serious health and safety risks. Given the close quarters and frequent person-to-person interaction, correctional staff and incarcerated individuals are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Lack of PPE also creates additional risk of community spread outside the facilities. Relatedly, we have learned from facility staff that showers are restricted for individuals incarcerated at FCC Petersburg, a policy which further exacerbates sanitation and hygiene issues during a global pandemic. 

We have also received numerous reports related to other declining conditions at FCC Petersburg. It is our understanding that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis. We have also heard disturbing reports that the food the incarcerated individuals are receiving has declined significantly in both quantity and quality, including being served spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.   

Further, as we detailed in our letter nearly four months ago, correctional staff at FCC Petersburg continue to be denied a lunch break, despite reportedly working shifts as long as sixteen hours. This is unacceptable and dangerous. We once again encourage you to institute a break policy—not only at the Petersburg facility, but at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) facilities across the nation—that more appropriately responds to correctional staff’s basic needs. 

Additionally, we are particularly dismayed to learn that, despite our concerns, BOP is transferring individuals to facilities without a record of COVID-19 cases. A group of individuals was recently transferred to USP Lee, which included at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia, and not only could this transfer result in an entirely preventable outbreak inside the prison, it is also dangerous for the public health of local community members.   

Finally, your failure to respond to our serious concerns is further heightened by the recent announcement from the BOP that facilities will allow visitations to resume in early October. While we agree that resuming visitations is incredibly important for incarcerated individuals and their families, proper protocols must be in place and followed to ensure the health and safety of the incarcerated individuals, their families, and the surrounding communities. We urge you to take all available steps to ensure vitiations can resume as soon as possible while preserving the health and safety of visitors, staff, and incarcerated individuals.

Given the magnitude of the worsening conditions at USP Lee and FCC Petersburg, we demand an immediate response to how BOP is addressing our concerns by no later than October 5, 2020. As COVID-19 continues to present a significant health challenge at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities, we are committed to working with you to address the needs of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff. 

We appreciate your attention to these important issues impacting our constituents and look forward to your prompt response. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement today upon the Senate voting to confirm Thomas Cullen as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia:

“We’re pleased to see the Senate confirm Thomas Cullen to this judgeship. We’re impressed with his record of prosecuting white supremacists in Charlottesville, and we believe he will serve the Western District well.”

Mr. Cullen has served as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia since 2018.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded $543,619 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault in Norfolk and Richmond. 

“Unfortunately, in today’s society, there’s so much more we must do to combat violence against women, especially on our college campuses,” said the Senators. “Boosting the capacity for higher education institutions to prevent violence and stalking on campus and increasing resources for support services is a start.”

The funding was awarded as follows:

  • $300,000 for Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. The funding was awarded through theGrants to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking on Campus Program (Campus Program). The Campus Program provides higher education institutions the opportunity to establish comprehensive approaches to better combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking on campuses. NSU works in partnership with the YWCA of South Hampton Roads, the City of Norfolk Police Department, and the Office of Norfolk’s Commonwealth Attorney to ensure the Campus Program is properly administered.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have worked to secure funding that better supports victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In April, the senators penned a letter to Congressional leadership requesting that any future legislation to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) provides funding to support victims and survivors, including programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act.

Kaine is the sponsor of the Survivor Outreach and Support on Campus Act (S.O.S. Campus Act), which would require colleges and universities to have an independent advocate available to support survivors of sexual assault on every campus. In 2015, provisions of Kaine’s Teach Safe Relationships Act were signed into law to allow elementary and secondary schools to use federal education funding specifically for instruction and training on safe relationship behavior among students. The idea for the legislation came out of a December 2014 meeting Kaine had at the University of Virginia to listen to students’ recommendations for preventing campus sexual assault.Warner has previously introduced bipartisan legislation to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would reform the way institutions handle incidents of on-campus sexual assault and ensure that investigations and disciplinary proceedings are fair and consistent. It would also create new resources and support services for survivors, and set new notification requirements for both survivors and accused students involved in the campus disciplinary process.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) continued to seek answers from the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the killing of Fairfax County resident Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police (USPP) officers in 2017. For over two years, Sen. Warner has sought transparency into the circumstances surrounding the use of deadly force, the FBI’s review of the case, and the handling of the incident by the Department of the Interior.

“I am deeply disappointed in the lack of actual information provided in your letter, especially considering it took over seven months to receive a response to my original correspondence. The response and recent public comments made by the Department of the Interior raise some additional questions that require further clarification,” wrote Sen. Warner. “One specific aspect of NPS and USPP’s handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case that has not been adequately explained is the status of an internal affairs investigation related to the Park Police officers involved in the incident.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner pointed to contradictory comments from USPP regarding the status of an internal affairs investigation into the officers that were involved in the incident. In response, Sen. Warner requested answers to a number of questions regarding the Department of the Interior’s position on such an investigation: 

  1. Is the Park Service and the Park Police relying on written guidance within the USPP Internal Affairs Unit or elsewhere within NPS when claiming it is the position of the agency that it does not pursue internal affairs investigations while criminal investigations are ongoing or could potentially be forthcoming? If such written guidance exists, I request that you provide my office with a copy of this policy. If no such written policy exists, I ask that you provide a fulsome explanation as to how this became the current position of USPP and NPS, including the legal justification for the agency’s position on this matter. 
  1. Are there previous examples where the USPP Internal Affairs Unit has conducted an internal affairs investigation regarding the use of force by Park Police officers while outside civil or criminal investigations were ongoing or potentially forthcoming? If there are such instances, I request that you provide my office with documentation regarding these investigations and an explanation of how they differ from the situation regarding Mr. Ghaisar.
  1. In the updated USPP General Order on Use of Force policy (#3615), a section is included regarding the reporting of use of force incidents. In this section, it states that an officer “shall immediately report all uses of force beyond Cooperative or Contact controls to an immediate supervisor,” and that “[t]he supervisor shall submit a copy of all reports within 24 hours to the Commander, Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the appropriate Division Commander through the appropriate chain of command.” It continues, “[t]he Commander, OPR, shall ensure all use of force incidents are properly investigated,” and provides the OPR Commander authority to assign the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a thorough investigation of an incident if deemed necessary.[1]

    How do these new reporting requirements compare to the guidelines in place at the time of the Bijan Ghaisar incident? The updated guidelines appear to have no qualifications that would prevent the Internal Affairs Unit from conducting an investigation concurrently with any potential civil or criminal investigation associated with an incident pertaining to the use of force by a Park Police officer. Would these reporting requirements spelled out in the updated General Orders on Use of Force be subjected to USPP’s current stated policy that it does not initiate internal affairs investigations if a criminal investigation is possible, even if the OPR Commander determines an incident is worthy of an internal affairs investigation? 
  1. When the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a formal decision of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the two Park Police officers involved in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, what is the anticipated timeline for the USPP Internal Affairs Unit to determine if any violations of USPP policy occurred?

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of its investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letterto the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

In June of 2019, Sen. Warner along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. Two months later, the FBI provided a brief response, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

In November 2019, the Senators pledged to seek greater transparency and formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the shooting – shortly after the FBI concluded its lengthy investigation without fully explain its findings, including why the two officers opened fire on Ghaisar. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner voted against the nomination of Katharine MacGregor to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and in May, announced that he would place a hold on future Department of the Interior nominees until he receives adequate responses to his questions surrounding the Park Service’s handling of the shooting.

A copy of today’s letter is available here and below.

 

July 24, 2020

The Honorable David Vela

Acting Director

National Park Service

1849 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20240 

Dear Acting Director Vela: 

Thank you for the letter, sent June 3, 2020, which aimed to respond to a letter Senator Grassley and I sent to you on November 1, 2019, that raised serious questions regarding the National Park Service’s (NPS) and United States Park Police’s (USPP) handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case. While I appreciate that you responded, I am deeply disappointed in the lack of actual information provided in your letter, especially considering it took over seven months to receive a response to my original correspondence. The response and recent public comments made by the Department of the Interior raise some additional questions that require further clarification.

One specific aspect of NPS and USPP’s handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case that has not been adequately explained is the status of an internal affairs investigation related to the Park Police officers involved in the incident. In response to my question regarding the status of a potential internal affairs investigation, you replied that “the National Park Service (NPS) does not typically comment on the substance or specific aspect of such reviews before they are complete,” and “[w]e can confirm that the Department has begun evaluating next steps in the context of pending cases and possible criminal action by the Fairfax County Prosecutor’s Office.” However, on May 20, 2020, a representative for USPP commented, “no internal affairs investigation of this case will begin until after a decision is made by Fairfax on filing criminal charges.”  While other questions remain surrounding the Department’s handling of Bijan’s shooting, I have a number of specific questions regarding the Department’s position on a potential internal affairs investigation.

1.           Is the Park Service and the Park Police relying on written guidance within the USPP Internal Affairs Unit or elsewhere within NPS when claiming it is the position of the agency that it does not pursue internal affairs investigations while criminal investigations are ongoing or could potentially be forthcoming? If such written guidance exists, I request that you provide my office with a copy of this policy. If no such written policy exists, I ask that you provide a fulsome explanation as to how this became the current position of USPP and NPS, including the legal justification for the agency’s position on this matter.

2.           Are there previous examples where the USPP Internal Affairs Unit has conducted an internal affairs investigation regarding the use of force by Park Police officers while outside civil or criminal investigations were ongoing or potentially forthcoming? If there are such instances, I request that you provide my office with documentation regarding these investigations and an explanation of how they differ from the situation regarding Mr. Ghaisar.

3.           In the updated USPP General Order on Use of Force policy (#3615), a section is included regarding the reporting of use of force incidents. In this section, it states that an officer “shall immediately report all uses of force beyond Cooperative or Contact controls to an immediate supervisor,” and that “[t]he supervisor shall submit a copy of all reports within 24 hours to the Commander, Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the appropriate Division Commander through the appropriate chain of command.” It continues, “[t]he Commander, OPR, shall ensure all use of force incidents are properly investigated,” and provides the OPR Commander authority to assign the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a thorough investigation of an incident if deemed necessary.  

How do these new reporting requirements compare to the guidelines in place at the time of the Bijan Ghaisar incident? The updated guidelines appear to have no qualifications that would prevent the Internal Affairs Unit from conducting an investigation concurrently with any potential civil or criminal investigation associated with an incident pertaining to the use of force by a Park Police officer. Would these reporting requirements spelled out in the updated General Orders on Use of Force be subjected to USPP’s current stated policy that it does not initiate internal affairs investigations if a criminal investigation is possible, even if the OPR Commander determines an incident is worthy of an internal affairs investigation? 

4.           When the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a formal decision of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the two Park Police officers involved in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, what is the anticipated timeline for the USPP Internal Affairs Unit to determine if any violations of USPP policy occurred?

Thank you for your attention to the questions outlined above. Should you or your staff have any questions regarding this request, please contact my staff.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to introduce the Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act, which would block the Trump Administration from deploying federal agents as paramilitary forces against Americans. The action comes after a week in which heavily armed federal forces without uniform identification in unmarked vehicles have been grabbing protesters off the street in Portland, Oregon. Those forces have deployed munitions and tear gas against protesters. 

“What we’ve seen in Portland these last two weeks is an outrage and should never be accepted in the U.S.,” the Senators said. “President Trump is using completely unjustified and unconstitutional intimidation tactics against American citizens over the objections of state and local officials. This bill makes it clear that unidentified officers cannot trample on the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters.”

Specifically, the legislation would:

  1. Require individual and agency identification on uniforms of officers and prevent unmarked vehicles from being used in arrests.
  2. Limit federal agents’ crowd control activities to federal property and its immediate vicinity, unless their presence is specifically requested by both the mayor and governor.
  3. Require disclosure on an agency website within 24 hours of deployments specifying the number of personnel and purposes of deployment.
  4. Make arrests in violation of these rules unlawful.

The bill was also introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Senator Kaine previously introduced a successful NDAA amendment to prevent the use of military funds or personnel against American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.

The full text of the Senate NDAA amendment can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – Following a continuous push from U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) to get the life-saving Ashanti Alert system implemented across the country, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), a component within the Department of Justice (DOJ), held a national webinar today to encourage states to integrate the Ashanti Alert within their existing statewide alert systems. Sen. Warner sent a letter to Governors across the country inviting their law enforcement officials to participate in the webinar and learn how they can begin to implement this critical program. During the webinar, the BJA announced they will make $1 million in technical assistance available to facilitate and expedite the development of statewide Ashanti Alert programs. The application process for the federal funding will be available beginning tomorrow, Friday, July 24. 

“Today’s national webinar on the Ashanti Alert system took an important step forward in getting states more information on this life-saving tool,” said Sen. Warner. “The input by Virginia state officials during today’s discussion underscores how this alert system can effectively assist in the search of a missing individual. It’s my hope that states across the country will apply to the pilot program and implement this tool into their existing networks in an effort to save lives and pay tribute to Ashanti, a young Virginian who was taken from her family too soon.”

“On behalf of Ashanti Markaila Billie, ourselves the parents and the entire Billie family, we extend our thanks to Senator Warner and the Department of Justice. Through their diligence and dedication to the Ashanti Alert, we are now seeing the first fruits of our labor in implementation,” said Meltony and Brandy Billie, parents of Ashanti Billie. “Today’s training webinar marks a milestone towards final implementation. We look forward to the continued progress of the Ashanti Alert and its potential to save American lives.”

The Ashanti Alert Law is named after Ashanti Billie – a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in North Carolina, 11 days after she was first reported missing in Norfolk, Va. At the time of Ashanti’s abduction, she was too old for an AMBER Alert and too young for a Silver Alert. Once implemented, the Ashanti Alert would notify the public about missing or endangered adults, ages 18-64, and assist law enforcement in the search by way of a national communications network.

At Sen. Warner’s urging, DOJ has been working with Virginia state officials on the Ashanti Alert implementation, which today gave way to a presentation by Virginia state officials on how the Ashanti Alert system has successfully worked in the Commonwealth. In April 2018, Virginia passed its own legislation to create an Ashanti Alert network and the first alert was issued in July 2018 – three months after it was signed into law by Governor Northam. Since its implementation, Virginia has successfully issued ten Ashanti Alerts in the Commonwealth. 

“Today’s webinar culminates several years of intense labor dedicated to raising the awareness of missing adults between age of 18 and 64 years old in the US and Indigenous territory’s. We are most thankful that the precious life of Ashanti will serve to save many for many years to come,” said Michael J. Muhammad, a representative for the Billie family, who provided background during the webinar on the need to close the gap in the existing missing persons system.  

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this national alert system through the Senate on December 6, 2018, has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. In August, he reiterated the need for the alert’s swift implementation, following a meeting with Ashanti Alert Coordinator, DOJ Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katherine Sullivan.

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